Does new Cubs manager Rick Renteria know what he’s getting into?
BY RICK MORRISSEY Sports Columnist November 7, 2013 10:24PM
CHICAGO - JUNE 27: Manager Lou Piniella #41 of the Chicago Cubs paces in the dugout during a game against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on June 27, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the White Sox 8-6. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) R:\Merlin\Getty_Photos\GYI0060904274.jpg
Updated: December 9, 2013 11:07AM
It’s not too late for new Cubs manager Rick Renteria to get out of town, even though he hasn’t actually arrived yet.
Recent hip surgery meant that Renteria was medically grounded in California on Thursday and had to introduce himself to the media on a conference call. In my mind, the hiring is not official until he and his hips get to Chicago and realize what they’ve gotten themselves into.
He thinks he knows the challenges of leading the Cubs, but so did Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella and all the other managers who left the North Side looking like cartoon characters who had just smoked exploding cigars.
Renteria’s challenges are as great as anyone who has ever led the Cubs. That’s saying something, considering the franchise hasn’t won a World Series since — give me a moment while I look it up — 1908.
But from what I could gather, this is a guy who could test positive for being positive.
“It’d probably be very rare for you to see me without a smile on my face, even in difficult times,’’ said Renteria, almost begging for a thunderbolt to strike.
Over and over again Thursday, he used the word “kids’’ to describe Cubs players. He said he refuses to look at outside players he would like to have on his roster, which is probably a good attitude in an organization that has been allergic to signing pricey veterans of late.
There’s obviously a pitched battle going on here. Some of us can’t help but notice the combined 197 losses of the last two seasons. The Cubs tell us we’re blind and to look at the development going on in the minor leagues. Some of us wonder how many of those “kids” will succeed, given the vagaries of baseball. The Cubs tell us to trust them.
In a way, what other choice is there for Cubs fans? Nothing else has worked, and that includes Dale Sveum, Theo Epstein’s first managerial hire here. Will the raze-and-rebuild plan eventually pay off? I don’t think anyone knows, and that includes the Cubs’ president of baseball operations. But Epstein has to know that he is on notice with his decision to hire Renteria, the Padres’ bench coach. It simply has to work. Impatience is rising in town.
The Cubs believe that bringing in a manager who can speak Spanish will be a positive with young players such as shortstop Starlin Castro and some of their up-and-comers in the minors.
How do you say “90 losses-plus” in Spanish?
It’s where the Cubs likely are headed in 2014, with Renteria steering the ship with that smile on his face. If he’s lucky, he’ll get to see improvement in 2015. If he’s really lucky, he’ll still be employed in 2016. That’s not being negative. That’s simply acknowledging that he’s the Cubs’ fifth manager in 11 years.
“My expectation is that we’re going to compete and win,’’ he said.
The Cubs fired Sveum on Sept. 30, which seems like eons ago because it was. They would have been quicker about their business had they been able to lure Joe Girardi away from the Yankees. But Girardi said his family voted to stay in New York. We call those kinds of people “informed voters.’’
As the Cubs began their search, everything they said they were looking for in their manager was a reflection of what they thought Sveum wasn’t. They were looking for someone who encourages, nurtures and improves young players.
But for all the computer analysis and cutting-edge research, the Cubs ended up doing what so many other professional teams do: They hired somebody they knew. Renteria had been in the Padres organization since 2003. Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer was the Padres’ GM for the 2010 and ’11 seasons. You can’t call it the old boys’ network because Epstein and Hoyer are too young for that. But it’s definitely a network.
I don’t normally feel sorry for someone who is about to get rich, but the 51-year-old Renteria clearly has no idea of what’s in store for him. I’m not even talking about “Cubbie occurrences,’’ Piniella’s term for the unpleasant things that tend to happen to this franchise. I’m talking about the day-to-day grind of losing and the sheer weight of all that history.
“I can’t speak to what’s happened in the past,’’ Renteria said. “I can only think about moving forward with the kids that we have.’’
I fear for his hips.